From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: 100 yrs Later, Little Has Changed

This past week marked the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that claimed the lives of 129 women and 17 men,some as young as 14. They toiled under horrendous conditions working 14 hour days with but one half hour break.When fire broke out that fateful day, it spread quickly from one pile of fabric to another.To their horror these unfortunate workers found themselves unable to flee the flames because the doors were locked to keep labour organizers out , some took to the fire escape only to have it  collapse sending many plummeting  to their deaths on the pavement below.

When the fire fighters arrived their ladders and hoses were too short to reach the fire sealing the victims' fate, some chose to leap the eight stories to their deaths rather than burn to death.

 " I learned a new sound, a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding living body on a stone sidewalk. THUD dead! ... THUD dead!....THUD dead! "

In a settlement the owners of the factory paid the families of each of the victims the princely sum of 75 dollars despite the fact the insurance company paid the owners, Blanck and Harris about $60,000 more than the reported losses, or about $400 per casualty. In 1913, Blanck was once again arrested for locking the doors in his factory during working hours. He was fined $20.

Lesson learned right, not really. In 1991 at the Imperial Food Products chicken-processing plant in N Carolina 25 workers died in a fire unable to escape because the doors were locked in order to bar them from stealing chickens,2008 in Thailand 188 workers died in a fire at a toy factory because they were also locked in, and in 2010, 28 more workers died in a fire at a Bangladeshi plant making clothes for the Gap,again they died because they were locked in. One other sad fact is that the workers at the Gap factory were being paid less the the Triangle workers were when inflation is factored in.

Today we see many jobs being exported overseas in order to exploit workers just as the Triangle workers were, and for those few jobs that remain, we are witnessing governments repealing labour and safety regulations as well as permitting the bosses to ignore the few that still remain in place, setting the stage for many more deaths in the workplace, all with near impunity because after all efficiency demands that killing workers must be as cost effective as possible.


  1. Shocking videos. Will governments and big business never own up?

  2. They like things just the way they are The profits are too great for the bastards to resist

  3. The objections are always the same. The Factory Acts in Britain in the early 1800s heard the same objections that are used today by business owners.

    A bill introduced in 1815 restricted factories from employing children under 9, and restricted those between the ages of 9 and 16 to no more than 12 hours per day. Here are the factory owners' objections:

    * nothing in the working conditions of mill children showed any need for legislation
    * the Bill is inquisitorial, interferes with free labor, with parental authority, and in effect with the labor of adults, because the adults cannot work without the children
    * the Bill would make the British industry uncompetitive on the world market
    * the Bill created a dangerous precedent "If eleven hours actual labor be fixed as a maximum in Cotton Mills, how can Parliament refuse to impose a similar maximum for all other trades?"
    * there was no need for legislation; enlightened millowners already saw the need for good working conditions; given time the rest would also
    * restricting the hours of children would mean millowners would employ men rather than children - rather than benefitting children the Bill would make them unemployable
    * reducing the hours mills were operated would have a bad effect on the morals of the millworkers

    When the same issues arise, time after time, over 200 years, maybe we should start thinking there's something wrong with Capitalism as a system.